Celebrating Computer Science Education Week

Paul Goldenberg has over 40 years of experience in K–12 mathematics curriculum development, research, and professional development. He has taught from self-contained elementary (Grades 2 and 4) through middle and high school mathematics and computer science, as well as graduate school mathematics and psychology for education. Currently, Paul and his long-time collaborator June Mark are the co-Principal Investigators of BJC4NYC—an NSF Math and Science Partnership (MSP) in which EDC is collaborating with UC Berkeley, the New York City Department of Education, and CSNYC (NYC Foundation for Computer Science Education) to broaden participation in computer science in New York City public high schools. In this post, written in celebration of Computer Science Education Week 2015 (December 7–13) and Hour of Code, Paul shares some thoughts about computer science education.

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” I’m dubious that any one subject—whether it is computer science, Latin, or mathematics (much as I love mathematics!)—teaches people how to think. I do, however, believe that if we teach computer science as good logical sense, if we teach it well, and if we spark students’ interest in it and inspire students with it, computer science offers rich opportunities for teaching good thinking and clear articulation of that thinking! Ideally, of course, we’d be doing exactly that in all of our subjects—for a key example, writing—and not just in the sciences.

I think there is a better reason why all students should learn how to program a computer. All students can learn how to code, and all students can enjoy the power of programming a computer to do things that genuinely interest them. Right now, far too many students—and far too many adults, for that matter—still think that coding is only for a select few. That is simply wrong. As we test our new computer science course in New York City public high schools that serve diverse populations of students in the Bronx, in Queens, in Brooklyn, and in Manhattan, we are seeing young people get really excited about coding. The kinds of genuine successes that they are experiencing—puzzling it out and pushing through until they see that they have succeeded—often surprise them, showing them concretely, not just with some pep talk or praise, that they are much smarter than they thought they were and (too often) much smarter than others have left them to believe that they are. I’m happy when that can happen.

Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code are great for that reason. They send a strong, clear message that you don’t have to be a computer scientist or a mathematician to join in. That’s a powerful way to change the public impression that only “geniuses” can tackle computer science. Everyone can tackle it, everyone can succeed at it, and everyone can benefit. Of course, no subject—not art, politics, mathematics, sports or computer science—will be everyone’s favorite, but computer science learning experiences have not been widely available, and the lack of opportunity narrows people’s options. Whether as an entree to (really) higher paying jobs or just for the fun and fascination of it, everyone should have the chance to feel the beauty of coding and be given the choice to follow it up!